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:: Croupier

Mike Hodges, best known for the original Get Carter, has directed another film with a deadpan, inscrutable male lead. Much like Michael Caine in Get Carter, Clive Owen’s Jack Manfred is an emotionless man, creating his own system of morals in an amoral world.

The voice over, narrated by Manfred, using the third person, brings us into Jack’s world and keeps us there, showing little of anyone else’s motives or point of view. Jack is an aspiring writer, his career seemingly over before it’s begun. His father, living in South Africa, sets him up in a job as a croupier in a small casino, where Jack meets Bella (Kate Hardie), a former S & M worker and Matt, a croupier who breaks all the rules. Jack is a superb croupier, his coldness and efficiency perfect for the job he was practically born into, his mother having given birth to him in a South African casino. As the job starts to take over and shape a book in his head Jack’s relationship with his store detective girlfriend Marion (played by Gina McKee, the woman in the wheelchair from Notting Hill) deteriorates. She wants to be living with a writer, not a croupier. Marion’s mistake throughout the film will be trying to change Jack into something she wants him to be. They don’t seem to know each other at all so she never sees Jack for what he really is. At the casino Jack also meets Jani De Villier’s (ER’s Alex Kingston) and she draws him into a plan to rob the casino. It seems a good plot twist for his book and Jack agrees, with betrayals and double crosses ensuing in quick succession.

Clive Owen is charismatic and convincing as one of life’s observers. He does not get drawn in to the world of gambling, his addiction is seeing other people lose. And the other people in his life do lose, all without ever really touching him. Aside from Alex Kingston the rest of the cast are familiar faces without being well known and this helps to keep the film looking and feeling realistic. The casino is brilliantly shot with distortive, almost fun house style mirrors lining the walls and reflecting the people inside as grotesque.

The film was released in the UK two years ago with little fanfare but after being a success in the US arthouse it is getting a re-release there. Croupier does not condescend to it’s not audience, but neither does it fully satisfy. The last third of the film lets down an intriguing set up. Plot lines are left to wither, with the death of a major character becoming barely a footnote and a bewildering declaration of love seems to have wandered in from another film. However, it’s still good enough to be worth while seeing for the first half alone.

Screening at the George Cinemas, Westgarth Theatre, Kino Cinemas, and Cinema Como.